‘The Dialectic of Capital: A Study of the Inner Logic of Capitalism (2 Vols.)’ by Thomas T Sekine reviewed by Chris Arthur


The Dialectic of Capital: A Study of the Inner Logic of Capitalism (2 Vols.)

Historical Materialism Book Series: Volume 185, Brill, Leiden 2020. 838 pp., €349.00 hb
ISBN 9789004384811

Reviewed by Chris Arthur

About the reviewer

Chris Arthur taught for many years at the University of Sussex. He is the author of Dialectics of …

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In order to see where Tom Sekine is coming from it is necessary to understand that he is a faithful follower of the remarkable Japanese Marxist Kōzō Uno (1897–1977).

Uno introduced some novel ideas. First, he clearly distinguishes between three different tasks of Marxist political economy. The most fundamental is the theory of a purely capitalist society. This is distinct from the task of tracing the stages of capitalist development, and of analysing a particular capitalist society. In his Principles of Political Economy he treats the pure theory. It is a very methodical work. It may be supposed that he intends to follow a dialectical structure because the chapters, and their divisions, are organised in triads. But there is no explicit acknowledgement of the influence of Hegel. Uno’s second great achievement is his departure from Marx on the matter of the rightful place of ‘labour’ in such a systematic exposition of pure theory. He holds that Marx was mistaken in dropping the labour theory of value into his first chapter. ‘Labour’ is to be held back until after the capital form is thematised; thus after chapter six (of the English translation). Once that decision is made, then the structure of the exposition takes on a very different aspect. Uno presents first an investigation of ‘Circulation’; only after that can he address ‘Production’, and finally ‘Distribution’. Sekine follows this plan.

In scholarly work on Marx’s theory, there are three possibilities. One might confine the problem field to exegesis, perhaps citing Marx’s gnomic utterances on the relevance of Hegel’s dialectic. Or one might defend a certain interpretation of Capital, in opposition to rival interpretations. Finally, in order to achieve a coherent account of the critique of political economy, one might embark on a reconstruction of Marx’s work. Uno (and Sekine) clearly advances such a reconstruction and, in my opinion, Uno is absolutely right to deal first with the value form, while holding back for later an account of the way circulation forms sink into production and formally determine its shape and direction.

Now I come to Sekine. He is a faithful follower of Uno in that this book repeats exactly the latter’s chapter headings. Naturally Sekine has much to add to the analysis, especially on such perennial topics as the transformation problem, the falling rate of profit and the reproduction schemes. However, I leave the economic content aside here because this review is intended for a readership interested in philosophy. In this respect Sekine’s innovation is to put forward the thesis that Uno’s dialectic of capital is greatly illuminated by aligning it with Hegel’s logic. Indeed, he speaks of a ‘homomorphism’ of economic and logical forms.

Notice that just now I referred to Uno’s work, not to Marx’s work. This book, then, is not a Hegelian reading of Marx’s Capital; it is a reading of Uno’s reconstruction of it. Insofar as Uno himself makes no claim of the kind Sekine advances, one may even speak of a reconstruction of a reconstruction.

Sekine’s text was first privately produced in the early eighties. This edition has been subject to only minimal editorial polishing. Between these two editions of The Dialectic of Capital, Sekine published his An Outline of the Dialectic of Capital (Macmillan 1997). Sekine refers to Outlines as its ‘shortened version’ here. However, this glosses over the nature of much of the ‘shortening’: it deletes all the Hegel material present in the earlier text, namely the one now republished here.

This was easy to do, because of a peculiar feature of this Dialectic of Capital. Every chapter is preceded by a short section titled ‘the Hegel correspondence’. Sekine even advises the reader that ‘the correspondence will be of little interest to the reader not familiar with the logic of Hegel’, and that it may be skipped at first reading. (81, 190) What then is the point of bringing Hegel to bear on Uno? Is it supposed to underpin the structure of the text? Or is it abstracted from it?

Anyway, Sekine puts forward an interesting idea: that the dialectic of capital and the logic of Hegel ‘are homomorphic in structure’, even though one is idealist metaphysics and the other the materialist theory of economic life (40-41). This is because both are peculiar in that they are ‘self-revelatory’, so there is no gap between theory and its object. Capital plays the same role as the ‘Absolute’ in Hegel. Sekine goes so far as to claim that the two are ‘identical’, for Hegel’s ‘Absolute’ is ‘in fact capital in disguise’, the latter itself rooted in a logical totality (21). In turn this presupposes that ‘the reifying force of the commodity-economy is hypothetically allowed to consummate itself, hence abstracted from direct human relations (27). We simply copy, in the logical presentation, the ‘self-abstraction’ of capital itself.

His pioneering work was the first to carry through in detail what is now known as ‘the homology thesis’, namely demonstrating a category by category, form by form, correspondence of the forms assumed by capital and those of Hegel’s logic. But I shall fault his execution of the programme below.

Despite his claim that Hegel’s dialectic is identical with that of capital, he introduces a fundamental criticism of Hegel’s very starting point, so effectively putting this identity in question. As we know, after clearing the ground of all dogmatic assumptions Hegel takes as his intitial category pure ‘being’. This lacks all determinacy, hence amounts to ‘nothing’. The first concrete concept unites these in the shape of ‘becoming’. Already Hegel has gone wrong, argues Sekine. Thought effaces all matter so that only its shadow remins in the logic, as nothing, as the ‘non-being’ of thought. Sekine argues that his dialectic of capital is superior in that it takes materiality seriously. Having identified value with being, Sekine declares that it is opposed, not to sheer nothing, but to use-value. That is the fundamental ‘contradiction’ to be developed.

This position raises rather subtle issues. Sekine treats ‘naught’, ‘nothing’ and ‘non-being’, as synonyms. But they are not. Hegel distinguishes between ‘nothing’ and ‘non-being’. The negation of Sein is Nichtsein, which is ‘non-being’. But Hegel explains in his Science of Logic that ‘non-being’ could be taken as an ‘opposition’, which is a sort of relation, whereas he needs at the very beginning an immediacy devoid of all reference. Thus what is immediately equivalent to ‘being’ is sheer Nichts, namely ‘nothing’. Curiously, then, what Hegel rejects as a starting point, namely a genuine opposition, is taken up by Sekine as his founding ‘contradiction’, that between non-being (namely, use-value) and being (namely, value). However, there is a difference between the nothing identical with being (rejected by Sekine), and the non-being that faces being, hence not identical with it. So what he opposes to value is use-value, which presents a real obstacle to the free movement of capital. Sekine’s dialectic of capital brings this relation to the fore.

In my own dialectic of capital, I show that value is constituted by the absence of use-value, whereas Sekine understands by use-value the absence of value. I agree that value is not present in the materiality of use-value. But I follow Hegel closely in setting being and nothing as founding moments of the dialectic of the value form itself (Arthur 2002).

Being is completely indeterminate so cannot contrast with anything at all, so it amounts to nothing; conversely nothing, as equally indeterminate, is, on that account, indistinguishable from the character of being. Yet this very movement from one side to the other suggests that something is there, the Dasein, even if it is merely the presence of ‘nothingness’.

Sekine re-reads Hegel’s ‘nothing’ as what stands opposed to value, its non-being, namely use-value in all its materiality. But such an opposition presupposes we already know value contains not an atom of matter. In its immediacy therefore value arises from the absence of use-value. This is the ‘negative moment’ that is yet a constitutive moment of value as a positive presence. So my reading of Hegel’s ‘nothing’, in the value form logic, is that it is a moment of value itself, as the absence of use-value, whereas on Sekine’s re-reading, it is the presence of the use-value opposed to value.

In Sekine’s view the guiding thread to the dialectic of capital is the conquest of use-value by value. In my opinion this is his real contribution to the theory of capitalism. (But this does not need any ‘homomorphism’.) Use-values are claimed to be the ‘non-being’ of capitalism; this is all the more so because they are not by nature destined to be subsumed by the commodity-economic form of value. But use-values, as elements of economic life common to all societies, must be subdued by, and subsumed under, value, in order for capitalism, a historical institution, fully to display its inner logic (35-37).

But what is this logic distinct from use-value? Surely capital needs to be presented as an autonomous power prior to its engagement with use-value? – Just as Hegel presents his logic prior to the world to be informed with it. At a minimum the logic must be capable of autonomous existence. Hegel says it is prior to the existence of Nature and finite spirit. So he has some metaphysical guarantee that in the real world the Absolute finds nothing but the work it has eternally accomplished.

In our case it is necessary to demonstrate that the value form logic likewise has an autonomous reality before it is plausible to argue it subdues materiality of use-value. So, in my opinion, to depict the conquest of use-value requires first the presentation of the pure logic of the value form, up to that of capital as form.

The homology thesis requires the correspondence of two architectonics, that of knowledge and that of its ‘object’. It is of the first importance that this requirement sets strict criteria for the successful presentation of all consequent claims for a one-to-one correspondence between a specific logical category and a particular economic form. It is not uncommon in commentaries on Capital for an author to assert that such and such a figure, for example the ‘attraction and repulsion of capitals’, is surely inspired by a Hegelian one, in this case the ‘attraction and repulsion’ he speaks of when developing the dialectic of ‘one and many’ in his Doctrine of Being.

Maybe so. Maybe not. However, since, under the homology protocols, parallels must not be ad hoc but form links in a chain of logical forms, every such correspondence is determined by the whole architectonic. The orders of logic and ‘object’, as parallel, dictate their placement. Once two or three points of correspondence in the order are fixed then the architectonic dictates in what order the remaining forms ‘must’ correspond. Conversely, if two or three point of correspondence in the proposed order fail to work, then the whole is put out of play. However, it may be possible to achieve correspondence of Hegel and Marx by a reconstruction of one or both, which keeps intact their main lines. An example relevant below is that I think Hegel muddles ‘specifying measure’ – a category of Being – with ‘real measure’ – a form of Essence I think (cf. Arthur 2014).

Thus there are different ways to spell out the claimed homology. Sekine’s scheme, briefly, is:

  • Being: Circulation; Quality: Form of the Commodity; Quantity: Form of Money; Measure: Form of Capital.
  • Essence: Production; Intro-reflection: Production Process; Appearance: Circulation process of capital; Actuality: Reproduction.
  • Notion: Distribution; Subjective Notion: Profit; Objective Notion: Rent; The Idea: Interest.

Compare with this the ‘homology thesis’ advanced by me in The New Dialectic and Marx’s Capital (to be greatly expanded in my forthcoming The Spectre of Capital) as follows (cf. Arthur 2002: 108-9):

  • Being: Commodity; Quality: Exchangeable commodities; Quantity: Quantity of commodities to be exchanged; Measure: Exchange Value of commodities.
  • Essence: Money; Intro-reflection: Value in itself (as immanent exchangeability); Appearance: Forms of Expression of Value; Actuality: Money.
  • Notion: Capital; Subjectivity: Price; Objectivity: Metamorphoses of commodities and money; The Idea: Capital (in its General Formula).

Notice there is a major difference in that Sekine spreads the logic over the whole three volumes of Marx, whereas I claim it is best suited to articulating the forms of circulation, the turn to production I see as parallel to Hegel’s turn to Realphilosophie.

On examination of Sekine’s book, I find his so-called ‘correspondences’ vague or forced. I take up here only one specific claim, namely that capital is the form of ‘measure’. This bizarre ‘correspondence’ is imposed on Sekine by his architectonic, as may be seen above. But it would never occur to anyone not in its grip to think that capital incarnates measure. The one-to-one correspondence has no plausibility. What is capital supposed to be measuring? In what dimension? With what metric? Moreover capital, bent on augmenting value, requires for its comprehension the complex form of ‘teleology’, a category of the Notion, not Being.

When Sekine glosses his claim, he seizes on Hegel’s point that for the first time in the dialectic we find a unity of Quality and Quantity. Sekine says M–C­­–M is just such a unity, given sense by the augmentation of value. But for capital to be conceptualised as augmenting itself requires already a measure capable of registering the increase. Marx takes the measure of value to be money. And so does Sekine! Earlier, in the discussion of Quantity he rightly observes that the primary function of money is measure of value. But how can capital introduce ‘measure’ to the dialectic of form when it was already deployed earlier? Not only does he not explain why ‘measure’ occurs twice, it is not even remarked.

The truth is that he signally fails to give any account of measure in value theory. In the dialectic of capital the section on ‘measure’ should show how value becomes a measureable entity, and what form its appropriate measure takes. Instead, Sekine substitutes at this place a discussion of the general formula for capital, with a view of going forward with industrial capital. This example alone shows that the architectonic itself must be rejected.

Sekine originally wrote The Dialectic of Capital when teaching in Canada. He pays generous tribute to those colleagues who took up his ideas. If we can speak of an ‘Uno school’ in Japan, we may perhaps speak of an ‘Uno-Sekine school’ in Canada.

26 March 2021

References

  • Arthur, Christopher J 2002 The New Dialectic and Marx’s ‘Capital’ Leiden: Brill.
  • Arthur, Christopher J 2014 'Marx, Hegel and the Value-Form Marx's Capital and Hegel's Logic: A Reexamination Fred Moseley and Tony Smith (eds.), Leiden: Brill. https://chrisarthur.net/marx-hegel-and-the-value-form/

4 comments

  1. That Arthur is a philosopher and not an economist explains why his attempt to treat Marx’s Capital in relation to Hegel’s dialectic avoids the thorny thicket of economic problems besetting Marx’s very incomplete V3 of Capital; as Arthur builds his own homology largely around V1. Given Arthur’s purported grasp of dialectical epistemology and the realist necessity of applicability to a suitable object of knowledge, Arthur should be well aware that for Hegel as for Marx, the truth resides in the whole or “totality”. Not a self-styled piece of it. Thus the categorial opposition between value and use value within the commodity, which drives dialectical reasoning forward, is consummated in the category of interest in which capital itself becomes a commodity by overcoming all use value obstacles to its self-expansion as M-M’. What the dialectic demonstrates as it unfolds ALL the categories of capital in their logical immanence is the possibility of capital reproducing an entire human society as a byproduct of value augmentation. The category of interest is the most fetishistic because through it capital appears as an asset accruing an income stream with its subsumption of the labor and production process of society as the wellspring of value augmentation suppressed. A dialectic of capital that does not capture capital, as such, as a totality is no dialectic at all nor is it an adequate theorizing of capital. That Arthur’s review of Sekine’s elaboration upon Marx’s Capital and Uno’s reconstruction of it degenerates into base ad hominem cuts such as his reference to Sekine’s Canada connection rather than engaging in a more substantive fashion with what is at stake – while he modestly plugs his own book – is more than instructive…

  2. “If we can speak of an ‘Uno school’ in Japan, we may perhaps speak of an ‘Uno-Sekine school’ in Canada.”

    How on earth does anyone read this as a ‘base ad hominem cut’? It sounds more like an attempt to recognise the influence the author’s work has had.

    1. There’s a history here…Arthur’s insinuation is that Sekine’s developing his thought in Canada as opposed to Japan effects in a negative way his appropriation of Uno’s work…Of course, someone like myself who taught at Nagoya University in Japan for almost a decade and was well connected in Marxian economics circles knows well that Sekine is largely acknowledged to be the foremost representative and developer of the Uno School in Japan. No one there ever speaks of him in terms of an “Uno School in Canada”…Nor, in fact, at a conference discussing hugely significant theoretical questions related to the dialectic of capital would anyone waste intellectual time referencing his teaching location as a factor in the position on questions of the dialectic he takes. Indeed, the homology between Marx’s Capital and Hegel’s Logic in the division of both in three doctrines was one of Uno’s contributions. That Arthur wastes precious space in a debate over the dialectic of capital in talking about about Sekine’s teaching location during several years of his career is a base ad hominem cut and Arthur knows it…Do we in scholarly journals or at conferences during debates over Marxist theory, during question time, reference “Brazilian, British, Indonesian, Pakistani, US…etc. schools of Marxism” when commenting on a scholars work unless such is specifically the object of the discussion? Arthur is simply covering for the position he takes in his “new” book which plugs ideas that have already been discredited in a several articles including a 2005 piece by Albritton in Historical Materialism journal “How Dialectics Runs Aground: The Antinomies of Arthur’s Dialectic of Capital” and later direct responses from Sekine in various journals. Arthur never responds to those…

  3. A Reply to Arthur

    I am both pleased and honoured that my old friend, Chris Arthur, took the trouble of reviewing my Dialectic of Capital, written more than 35 years ago, but published in print for the first time only very recently, in the twighlight years of my life. I was a student of Uno, when I was still an undergraduate in Japan, and his influence on me remained all my life, even though I was later retrained in and taught “bourgeois economics” mostly in the West. That was prior to the so-called “Marx-renaissance” in the West in the 1970s.

    Uno never professed or broadcast that he was a Hegelian, though he surely was so, as Marx had been before him. Thus his genriron, or pure theory of capitalism, was written in the style of Hegel’s Logik. Hegel claimed that “logic coincided with metaphysics”, meaning that any discourse involving only metaphysical (i.e., non-sensuous) concepts must be logical. Economic theory contains no sensuous concept. So its discourse ought to be metaphysical = logical. But this “logical” here cannot mean “just formally and tologically logical”, as e.g., in mathematics. Hegel’s “logical” must, therefore, include synthetically logical and so dialectical, as he demonstrated in his own Logik, large and small. Indeed, Uno’s Keizai-Genron (=Economic Theory of a Purely Capitalist Society) is written in this form, i.e., in the three parts of Being, Essence and the Notion (capitalism’s apparently “circular forms”; the production and circulation of surplus value; and its distribution in society). Capitalism here signifies Marx’s “capitalist mode of production”). The Being of Capitalism means How it looks from the outside at first sight (on the surface), as it is in the basic mercantile forms of commodities, money and capital. But all these specifically capitalist “forms” must be grounded on the production-process of commodities as use-values, the real-economic activity of production common to all societies, which consists of the man-nature intercourse, but specifically assuming the form of value-forming and augmenting process under capitalism. Those use-values produced as value must be circulated, as increasing surplus value must be produced and accumulated. That constitutes the Essence (production-process) of capitalism. But when the production of all use-values as value occurs socially under capitalism, that must be coordinated so as to be consistent with the structure of social demand, so that no commodity is either over-produced or under-produced. That requires the formation of an average profit, in the form of which surplus value is redistributed to different industries. We are now in the doctrine of the Notion of capitalism, in which the surplus value produced in the production-process of capital is capitalist-rationally divided up (or distributed) among all those who may partake in the appropriation of the surplus value produced in society. This is how the economic theory of capitalism in the tradition of Marx is to be correctly exposed by anyone, and Uno first established that practice. So I just followed his example in my Dialectic of Capital. I also expect that all Unoists will follow the same procedure.

    But, that claim may possibly annoy philosophers like Chris Arthur, who never thought that Hegel’s Logic had anything to do with the economic theory of capitalism in disguise, even as a “rational kernel within the mystical shell” (Marx) ! What amazes me is that Hegel, without the slightest intention on his part, could teach today’s enlightened economists the correct way to logically synthesize the concept of capitalism in the sense of the capitalist mode of produoction. Economists surely have a lot to learn from Hegel today, perhaps even more than philosophers. I hope that this explains to Arthur and other hegelian philosophers that Hegel’s logic is perhaps even more vitally important to us, economists, than to them, philosophers.

    Thomas T. Sekine

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